Stuff and Nonsense: 30 Day Book Challenge

Showing posts with label 30 Day Book Challenge. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 30 Day Book Challenge. Show all posts


Day 30: Favorite Coffee Table Book

For a long time now, I've dreamed of growing a Shakespeare garden planted with flowers and herbs from the works of William Shakespeare -- poppies, pansies, primroses, violets, carnations, cowslips, roses, rosemary, rue, daffodils, irises, columbine, marigolds, etc. Alas, creating such a garden takes more energy, time, and money than currently available to me so I make do with the fabulous coffee table book, Shakespeare's Flowers by Frances Owens.

Shakespeare's Flowers consists of not much more than single or double page spreads of beautifully photographed flowers accompanied by a relevant Shakespearean quotations. "Nay, by my faith, I think you are more withholding to the night than to fern seed for your walking invisible" from Henry IV, Part I next to an exquisite closeup of a tightly coiled fiddlehead fern, for example. It's all beautifully put together and I can't see anyone not oohing and ahhing.

Here's flowers for you;
Hot lavender, mints, savoury, marjoram;
The marigold, that goes to bed wi' the sun
And with him rises weeping: these are flowers
Of middle summer, and I think they are given
To men of middle age.

-- The Winter's Tale (4.4.122-7)


Day 29: Book You’re Currently Reading

Today, I am reading Mercedes Lackey's One Good Knight, the second fantasy novel in the Five Hundred Kingdoms series, following The Fairy Godmother. If you're at all familiar with fairy tale cliches (referred to in these novels as The Tradition), you won't need to have read The Fairy Godmother to understand what's supposed to happen in One Good Knight -- there's a Princess (the daughter of a Wicked Queen) who is supposed to be sacrificed to a Dragon, but is rescued by a Champion, etc.

I say "supposed to" as the Five Hundred Kingdom novels are all fractured fairy tales and The Tradition is frequently undermined or manipulated by characters who won't accept their particular Happy Ending.


Day 28: Last Book You Read

The last book I read was Kady Cross's The Strange Case of Finley Jayne, a free ebook downloaded off Amazon. This is a prequel to Cross's The Steampunk Chronicles and, if it is anything to go by, the entire series must be pretty fantastic.

Finley isn't your average Victorian miss -- stronger than humanly possible, she sometimes feels possessed by a dark force that drives her to do bad or imprudent things. This, of course, has made it a bit hard to keep hold down respectable jobs and she is surprised to get an offer from a wealthy upperclass woman to become her daughter's paid companion. The woman is concerned as her daughter has recently become engaged to a man who may not harbor the best of intentions toward his intended.

The Strange Case of Finley Jayne is a highly entertaining combination of steamworks and Society, pretty dresses and mad science, frothy romance and bloody-minded murder.


Day 27: Favorite Fiction Book

Wouldn’t this be a repeat of “Day 1: What is your favorite book?” A repeat doesn’t sound very interesting so how about I talk about my favorite manga, instead?

The manga series, Emma by Kaoru Mori, follows the adventures of a young orphaned Victorian housemaid who falls in love with the eldest son of a very starchy upper class family. It's a fantastic story (think Upstairs, Downstairs with a heavy dose of Dickens and Bronte) told extremely well with such detailed and historically accurate illustrations that I could spend many happy hours just looking at the pictures.

Emma has been made into an anime and you can watch the first season on YouTube. It's a lot of fun!

(Was stricken with horror tonight to discover I had never purchased the final volume -- Volume 10 -- and it is out of print. They're all out of print. The publisher, CMX, was owned by DC and DC closed CMX down in 2010, because it wasn't a big enough money maker. Well, mother flippin' fish sticks, DC! How much of my money do you want?)


Day 26: Favorite Nonfiction Book

Well, I’m very fond of Pillsbury's Slow Cooker Recipes. When it was first published, I borrowed it from my library so much it might as well have been out on permanent loan to me! As this really wasn’t fair to other library users, I eventually did the right thing and bought myself a copy.

While I've bought or borrowed tons of cookbooks since then, Slow Cooker Recipes remains one of my favorites. Its recipes are fairly pedestrian and that's fine by me. While I love looking at newer, trendier slow cooker books that utilize more exotic ingredients and additional cooking methods, they're not books I really want to cook from. To me, slow cooking is a time saver and I should have to do as little prep work as possible before turning on my slow cooker -- I don't want to do any precooking and I should never find myself driving around town in a mad quest for a difficult-to-find ingredient. The dishes that come out of my slow cooker don't need to be fancy or particularly photogenic, they just need to taste good and be ready when I want to eat. Pillsbury's Slow Cooker Recipes gives me that.

My copy of Slow Cooker Recipes is seven years old now, but I still cook from it regularly and I expect to keep cooking from it until it falls apart.


Day 25: Favorite Book You Read in School

The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognized it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prison.

I really liked The Scarlet Letter, but I’d read it on my own and enjoyed it long before we were assigned it in Sophomore English. Sophomore English had ways of ruining perfectly good novels – I still can’t look at The Great Gatsby with anything less than loathing even though I know my reaction has very little to do with the novel and everything to do with my high school English department’s teaching style. There were things we needed to learn and Love of Literature was not one of them

But I digress. Fifteen-year-old me thought The Scarlet Letter was terribly, tragically beautiful. I read it twice through for my own pleasure and was ecstatic when it was assigned in class. Even the essay I had to write about symbolism and meaning in The Scarlet Letter did not kill my liking of it.


Day 24: Book That Contains Your Favorite Scene

"Sing the starlight song," Almanzo asked, and Laura sang again, softly,

In the starlight, in the starlight,
At the daylight's dewy close,
When the nightingale is singing
His last love song to the rose;
In the calm clear night of summer
When the breezes softly play,
From the glitter of our dwelling
We will softly steal away.
Where the silv'ry waters murmur
By the margin of the sea,
In the starlight, in the starlight,
We will wander gay and free."

Again silence came and was unbroken while Barnum of his own accord turned north toward the house. Then Laura said, "I've sung for you, now I'll give you a penny for your thoughts."

"I was wondering ..." Almanzo paused. Then he picked up Laura's hand that shone white in the starlight, and his sun-browned hand closed gently over it. He had never done that before. "Your hand is so small," he said. Another pause. Then quickly, "I was wondering if you would like an engagement ring."

"That would depend on who offered it to me," Laura told him.

"If I should?" Almanzo asked.

"Then it would depend on the ring," Laura answered and drew her hand away.

These Happy Golden Years, Chapter 23

It might not look like much if you haven’t read the Little House books, but trust me when I say this is one swoon-worthy scene. For years now, Almanzo had been courting Laura but she had been so frustratingly naïve about the whole thing -- during her first teaching job, he comes way out into the sticks in the dead of a bitter winter to fetch her home every weekend and she excuses his behavior as a favor to her Pa!

Err, no, Laura. No.

Cherry Jones does a brilliant job reading this scene in the audio version of These Happy Golden Years – there’s hesitancy to Almanzo’s voice and a hitch in Laura’s that really brings it home.

(Oh, I know, I am hopelessly off track with this challenge and today is much closer to being “Day 42” than it is “Day 24,” but what can I say? I am a bad, bad blogger).


Day 23: Book You Tell People You’ve Read, But Haven’t (Or Haven’t Actually Finished)

It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinarymiserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.

People everywhere brag and whimper about the woes of their early years, but nothing can compare with the Irish version: the poverty; the shiftless loquacious father; the pious defeated mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests; bullying school masters; the English and the terrible things they did to us for eight hundred long years. 

Above all -- we were wet.

I never actually finished reading Frank McCourt's Angela’s Ashes even though I told a few people I worked with that I had. I didn’t like Angela’s Ashes all that much – just wasn’t my cup of tea – but I told my coworkers I had read it and found it good, because I didn’t want to hear them go on and on about how Angela’s Ashes was The Best Book Ever Written and how Everyone Loves It and how I must be reading it wrong if I didn’t like it. Easier to lie than to face their censure!


Day 22: Book You Plan to Read Next

I'm planning on reading May Stewart's Touch Not the Cat which was recently mentioned in the Guardian's Books Blog in the post "Remembering Forgotten Favorites." I've never read any of Mary Stewart's novels, but one of my coworkers adores Stewart and keeps telling me I should read her since she is the mother of romantic suspense.

In Touch Not the Cat, a young woman returns to her family's failing estate after the death of her father. While at the estate, she tries to discover both the meaning behind her father's puzzling deathbed warning and the identity of her unseen psychic lover.

Woo. I'm hoping it's Nancy Drew meets Sookie Stackhouse, but that's probably too much to ask.


Day 21: Favorite Picture Book From Childhood

Favorite childhood picture book? Oh, that's easy! Without a doubt, Little Mouse on the Prairie (A Serendipity Book) by Stephen Cosgrove with illustrations by Robin James. It's a sweet story about a very busy, unsmiling mouse named Tweezle who never has time to frolic and play like the other silly field mice. Come winter, Tweezle is snug (if a bit lonely) in her well-prepared home while the care-fee and unprepared mice shiver in the cold. After some pleading, she takes the silly mice in and everyone learns an Important Lesson.

I loved this picture book so much – Tweezle was so adorably cranky and James’ illustrations really brought the story to life!

Another great selection by my mom!


Day 20: Book You’ve Read the Most Number of Times

Well, I've read Anne of Green Gables, Jane Eyre, and Little Town on the Prairie more times than I can count. Most of my re-readings, of course, occurred in my childhood or teen years -- as an adult, I don’t really re-read much since there are just too many new books fighting for my attention. If I keep re-reading Jane Eyre, how will I ever get to Diana Abu Jaber's new novel, Birds of Paradise?


Day 18: Book You’re Most Embarrassed to Say You Like

Liking Janine Cross’s The Dragon Temple Saga series (Touched by Venom et al) embarrasses the heck out of me. The series is very good with a compelling protagonist -- spunky young slave girl living in a brutal patriarchal society grows up to be a counter-cultural revolutionary. What’s not to like? What's to be embarrassed by?

Oh, I don’t know ... maybe by the sex with dragons whose venom is a powerful hallucinogen?

Over the months, I'd unwittingly immunized myself to gastrointestinal upset through my ever more potent mixtures of venom; drinking venom full-strength now caused little discomfort. But within weeks, I became habituated to the potency of full-strength venom, craved something stronger, thought of a dragon's tongue between my thighs and how such an invasion, upon the delicate tissues of my womb, might fulfill my need, take me to that peak that consumption of an old bull's venom could no longer take me.

You can’t see me, but believe me when I say I’m blushing furiously right now and I don’t know why! I’ve read a lot of graphic humanoid-on-humanoid sex scenes in my day and not been embarrassed by them. And it’s not even as if the human-dragon sex scenes are badly written!

Bestiality -- my last literary taboo?

(Apparently, I'm so embarrassed by these books that I forgot to post this and went straight to Day 19! Whoops!)

Day 19: (First) Book That Turned You On

Jane Eyre. Really. I was twelve and full of inarticulate longings and there was Jane. And Helen. And Miss Temple. And Mr. Rochester. Even now, I cannot revisit Jane Eyre without getting tangled up in a decades old snarl of sexual longing. Is it any wonder it remains my favorite novel?

Most true is it that "beauty is in the eye of the gazer." My master’s colourless, olive face, square, massive brow, broad and jetty eyebrows, deep eyes, strong features, firm, grim mouth, -- all energy, decision, will, -- were not beautiful, according to rule; but they were more than beautiful to me; they were full of an interest, an influence that quite mastered me, -- that took my feelings from my own power and fettered them in his. I had not intended to love him; the reader knows I had wrought hard to extirpate from my soul the germs of love there detected; and now, at the first renewed view of him, they spontaneously arrived, green and strong! He made me love him without looking at me.


Day 17: Shortest Book You’ve Read

I seen hunderds of men come by on the road an' on the ranches, with their bindles on their back an' that same damn thing in their heads. Hunderds of them. They come, an' they quit an' go on; an' every damn one of 'em's got a little piece of land in his head. An' never a God damn one of 'em ever gets it. Just like heaven. Everybody wants a little piece of lan'. I read plenty of books out here. Nobody never gets to heaven, and nobody gets no land. It's just in their head. They're all the time talkin' about it, but it's jus' in their head.

At 103 pages, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men is the shortest adult novel I’ve read. For such a short, simple story it deals in some very heavy themes and packs one heck of an emotional wallop. I think I’ve cried every time I’ve read it.


Day 16: Longest Book You’ve Read

Randy shuffles, which is no way to dance beautifully but does rule out snapping his partner's metatarsals. Amy is essentially no better at this than he is, but she has a better attitude. By the time they get to the end of the first dance, Randy has at least reached the point where his face is no longer burning, and has gone for some thirty seconds without having to apologize for anything, and sixty seconds without asking his partner whether she will be needing medical attention.

Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon is probably the longest hardcover novel I've read. It's difficult to say as I went through a period where I read a lot of epic chunksters and it's possible a volume from Otherland, Song of Ice and Fire, The Saga of Recluce, or the Wheel of Time is longer but I can't be bothered to go find out. Anyway, at almost a thousand pages, Cryptonomicon is long. And (disturbingly) fun, of course.


Day 15: First “Chapter Book” You Can Remember Reading As A Child

One of the first chapter books I remember reading is The Borrowers by Mary Norton. I thought Arrietty Clock was fantastic and I loved the idea of a cozy house under the floorboards with soup simmering in a silver thimble on a fireplace of made out of a cogwheel and brass funnel.

Homily was proud of her sitting-room: the walls had been papered with scraps of old letters out of waste-paper baskets, and Homily had arranged the handwriting sideways in vertical stripes which ran from floor to ceiling. On the walls, repeated in various colors, hung several portraits of Queen Victoria as a girl; these were postage stamps, borrowed by Pod some years ago from the stamp-box on the desk in the morning-room. There was a lacquer trinket-box, padded inside and with the lid open, which they used as a settle, and that useful stand-by -- a chest of drawers made of match boxes. There was a round table with a red velvet cloth, which Pod had made from the wooden bottom of a pill-box supported on the carved pedestal of a knight from the chess set ...The knight itself -- its bust, so to speak -- stood on a column in the corner, where it looked very fine, and lent that air to the room which only statuary can give.

I remember taking some of my dollhouse furniture outside and making a little “Borrower’s house” in a split tree trunk and populated it with Strawberry Shortcake dolls, but it wasn’t the same.

I was really tickled to see Studio Ghibli has made an animated film, Arrietty, based on Norton's novel:

Alas, it will not be available in the United States until February 2012.


Day 14: Book Whose Main Character You Want to Marry

Don't want to marry any of 'em -- no matter how smart/hot/awesome they are -- as, to me, the qualities that make them great protagonists wouldn't make them great spouses. Great short-term lovers, maybe, but not spouses. Can't think of even one protagonist -- no, not even Anne Shirley -- with whom I could have a long marriage which would not involve broken crockery and shoutiness. Or separate holidays.

I'm just not a romantic person -- my idea of marriage runs along very practical, comfortable lines. Hmm. I guess I could marry Charlotte Lucas? Not a protagonist, of course, but an excellent person nonetheless.


Day 13: Book Whose Main Character is Most Like You

As a chronic worrier, I completely identify with Wemberly of Wemberly Worried -- a little mouse who worries about everything all the time.

Wemberly worried about everything.
Big things, little things, and things in between.
Wemberly worried in the morning.
She worried at night.
And she worried throughout the day.


Day 12: Book That is Most Like Your Life

Oh, this is a hard one. I can't think of a book that is most like my life because my life is pretty average and unexciting. In the books I read, even the most average contemporary woman loses her averageness by becoming entangled in secret plots or supernatural shenanigans or by being swept up by Tall, Dark, and Superior. This is unlikely to happen to me. Disappointing, really.

Fuck Yeah English Major Armadillo sums it up pretty well:


Day 11: Book From Your Favorite Author

There are billions of gods in the world. They swarm as thick as herring roe. Most of them are too small to see and never get worshiped, at least by anything bigger than bacteria, who never say their prayers and don't demand much in the way of miracles.

They are the small gods-the spirits of places where two ant trails cross, the gods of microclimates down between the grass roots. And most of them stay that way.

Because what they lack is

A handful, though, go on to greater things. Anything may trigger it. A shepherd, seeking a lost lamb, finds it among the briars and takes a minute or two to build a small cairn of stones in general thanks to whatever spirits might be around the place. Or a peculiarly shaped tree becomes associated with a cure for disease. Or someone carves a spiral on an isolated stone. Because what gods need is belief, and what humans want is gods.

Often it stops there. But sometimes it goes further. More rocks are added, more stones are raised, a temple is built on the site where the tree once stood. The god grows in strength, the belief of its worshipers raising it upwards like a thousand tons of rocket fuel. For a very few, the sky's the limit.

And, sometimes, not even that.

From Small Gods -- one of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors, Terry Pratchett.